Artists, policy wonks and students brainstorm on ways to keep young people in the state
By Adam Bulger
May 15, 2008
On Friday, May 9, I sat in a room of about 25 college students talking about why they wanted to leave or had to stay in Connecticut. The students at Capital Community College in downtown Hartford talked about being torn between wanting to give back to their communities or families and wanderlust, and one bemoaned the lack of "tolerable cities" in the state.
It was the sixth and last session held that week at four area colleges. The students' conversation led to a performance by the Hartford-based theater troupe the Hartbeat Ensemble. The members of Hartbeat took audience suggestions and performed short sketches based on them.
Through the performance, the organizers — the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy and Hartbeat — hoped to learn why Connecticut is losing its young. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, since 2000, Connecticut has lost a larger percentage of its 18 to 34-year-old population than any other state. While several explanations have been offered for the youth exodus — high cost of living, lack of job prospects — the precise reason remains unclear. The IMRP and Hartbeat hoped that by performing scenes culled from the students' suggestions, they could find out why young people are leaving the state in such large numbers.
During the performances, Hartbeat members said the three most frequently heard complaints concerned transportation, entertainment options and the tendency for state businesses to close early. It sounds obvious in broad strokes, but the details, particularly in reference to entertainment options, were surprising.
"It's not just bars. Everyone talks about the need for bars and restaurants," Hartbeat member Steve Ginsberg said. "That's not what we heard. What we heard was that there was a need for a diversity of entertainment options."
The performance was the first part of the project; Ginsberg said the comments from the different performances would be turned into a play.
Caitlynne Palmieri, a junior at CCSU, was initially skeptical about the performance.
"I was a little hesitant that it was going to be able to answer the question it brought up," Palmieri said. "It seemed a little far-fetched."
She was ultimately won over by the performance, as were many of the students. Some had some criticisms of the form, though.
"It is a very accessible and humorous way to involve people, especially young people, in giving voice to their concerns and opinions," said Laurel E. Coniglio, a Program Director for Artspace in New Haven. "I think that the workshop we attended, while well-intentioned, felt a bit rushed."
Members of the IMRP and Hartbeat plan on synthesizing their notes and the results of the surveys completed by the students into a report that will be distributed to lawmakers. But they're already considering ideas brought up in the events.
"One particular suggestion was that the Hartford/Travelers/CSU system, etc (any big employers) put together a 'welcome' packet for new employees that would give up to date info on things to do, places to rent/buy, groups, etc," IMRP director Andrew Clarke wrote in an e-mail. "It could also be a point of entry for networking among young professionals."